Legal System FAQs

How can I become an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney?

Each of Kentucky’s judicial Circuits elects a Commonwealth’s Attorney every six years. Depending on staffing needs and budgets, the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney may hire Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Rural circuits (consisting of several counties) may have only a few Assistants, while larger circuits will have many Assistants.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney and the Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys must be lawyers, licensed to practice in Kentucky. As with other lawyers, prosecutors generally complete a four-year college degree and then go to law school, which generally takes three more years. After graduation, Kentucky requires lawyers to pass an examination to become licensed to practice law in that state. Kentucky’s “bar exam” takes two days and occurs once in July and once in February.

Although prosecutorial salaries are usually less than can be obtained in private practice, the chief rewards are in making a difference in the community, seeing that justice is done, and speaking for victims of crime. The salary for Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys varies from county to county based on experience, background and other factors.

Anyone interested in a position as an Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney in Jefferson County should send a resume, cover letter, recent writing sample (preferably in the area of criminal law) and law school transcript to Ms. Young, who is in charge of the hiring process for the office:

Karen Young
514 West Liberty Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202.

How can I become a Law Clerk in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney?

The CAO employs several year-round law clerks who work 20 hours per week during the law school year and full-time during the summer. Positions are posted at the Brandeis School of Law at U of L when available. Campus interviews are usually scheduled , followed by interviews in the office for finalists. Summer-only clerkships are usually not available.

I want to work in your office. Do you have any job openings? What is the pay scale?

Job openings for paralegals, victim advocates, secretaries, detectives and other support staff in the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney occur periodically. Our office keeps a substantial database of individuals seeking employment in all areas. Sending a resume and cover letter now is certainly an option even if there are no current vacancies for your desired position. If you are interested in working in the CAO, please send a cover letter and your resume to:

Karen Young, Director of Human Resources
Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney
514 W. Liberty Street
Louisville, KY 40202-2887.

Is your job risky or dangerous?

Many of the cases we handle involve serious, violent crimes involving high emotions. Occasionally, those emotions are directed at the prosecutor, who is representing the community’s interests in the case. Prosecutors in Kentucky and throughout the country have been threatened, attacked, and even killed. Fred Capps, Commonwealth’s Attorney for Cumberland County was killed by a defendant he was prosecuting in 2000. Thankfully, these incidents are rare. The physical risks for Assistants are usually not significant.

I believe that a crime has been committed. How do I press charges? Can I report a crime directly to the prosecutor’s office?

Crimes are investigated by the police, not the prosecutor. Crimes should be reported to the police department or other law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction where the crime occurred. For example, crimes occurring inside Metro Louisville should be reported to the Metro Louisville Police Department. Crimes committed in the smaller cities within Jefferson County (for example, St. Matthews, Shively, Jeffersontown) should be reported to those local police departments.

Once the initial investigation has been completed, the police department’s report is filed with the prosecuting attorney. The prosecutor reviewing the file may send the case back to the police for further investigation. Ultimately, the reviewing prosecutor decides what charge(s), if any, will be issued and when the charges(s) should be issued. In the case of misdemeanor offenses, police officers will file the charges in Jefferson District Court and they are handled by the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office. Felony charges which are initially brought in Jefferson District Court must be referred to the Jefferson County Grand Jury before the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney has jurisdiction to review and prosecute.

How do I press counter-charges against someone?

This request generally arises from assaults. Regardless of whether you have already been charged, if you believe that a crime has been committed against you, go to the appropriate police department to file a complaint and request an investigation. Your case will be reviewed on its own merits.

I am the victim. Can I drop the charge?

Many people incorrectly believe that a victim has the power to “press charges” against the abuser, or to later “drop the charges”. All crimes are offenses against the community, not just the individual victim. Criminal complaints are prosecuted on behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, not the individual who called the police, or the person who may have been personally harmed by the defendant’s conduct. Requests to dismiss or “drop” charges must be approved by the prosecutor before being placed before the judge. This is important because it takes the responsibility for prosecuting the abuser off the victim’s shoulders and makes it the prosecuting attorney’s responsibility, where it legally belongs. It also means that the defendant cannot “pressure” the victim into dropping the charges.

Although the decision whether to prosecute or not prosecute is ultimately up to the prosecuting attorney, the victim’s opinion is important and the prosecuting attorney will take those wishes into account when making his or her decisions regarding the case. A variety of factors are taken into account when deciding whether to honor a complainant’s request not to proceed with a prosecution, including the nature and extent of the defendant’s prior criminal history, the severity of the alleged crime, whether the defendant has other pending charges in the criminal justice system, and future danger to the community (including the current victim).

How do I get my property back?

If your property was stolen and recovered by the police, it can sometimes be returned to you before the case is done; in most cases, we need to keep the property secured in police custody until the end of the case and possibly the end of any appeals. Ultimately, the decision whether evidence is released must be made by one of our office’s attorneys and released through the controlling police department.

The defendant is not paying court-ordered restitution. Who can help me?

Call the Office of Probation and Parole and ask for the probation officer who is assigned to the case. The probation officer can help you get your money if restitution was a condition of the defendant’s probation and if the defendant is still on probation.

If the probation has expired and your restitution has not been paid in full, see a private lawyer. A criminal case restitution order is a court order that expires only when the restitution has been paid in full. If the court-ordered restitution covers all of your claims, then you do not have to separately sue the defendant. You can enforce the criminal case’s restitution order like any civil judgment (for example, garnishment of wages and attachment of property).

I was the victim of a violent crime. Will the prosecuting attorney pay for my hospital bill and my lost wages, help me collect for pain and suffering, etc?

No. However, the Kentucky Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund may be able to help you with un-reimbursed medical expenses and lost income. With regard to compensation for pain and suffering, you may need to contact a private attorney.

I have been cheated by a contractor, shopkeeper or other person who provides labor or services. Can the Prosecuting Attorney help me?

The Kentucky Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (502) 696-5300 may be able to help. They may also be able to refer you to an agency that can help you.

I want to get a copy of a police report. How do I get a copy?

The defense attorney can obtain a copy of the police report from the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for his or her criminal defendant. If you are the victim of a crime, you can obtain a copy of the police report by making a request to the police department where the crime occurred.

I want a divorce. I also need help getting child support. Can the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office help me?

The prosecutor’s office cannot provide legal advice or take legal action in your divorce. You should consult with a private lawyer. The Jefferson County Attorney’s Office is responsible for child support prosecution and you could contact them with questions and concerns.

I want a restraining order to keep someone away from me. Will the prosecuting attorney do this for me?

While there is no such thing as a “restraining order” in Kentucky, there are several ways in which you can proceed through court and request that an individual have no contact with you or your family. Unless the individual is involved with a case in this office that also involves you, you should contact the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office for information on filing a Domestic Violence Order, an Emergency Protective Order, or any misdemeanor charges that reflect the type of harassment you have been receiving. If you are a prosecuting witness on a case in this office and a defendant is directly or indirectly contacting you, call the assigned prosecutor immediately. If there is a “no contact” order in place, that defendant may be in violation of their terms of release.

I have been subpoenaed to appear as a witness in a criminal case. What if I can’t attend on the date stated in the subpoena?

If you have a date conflict you should contact the assigned prosecuting attorney or your victim advocate immediately to discuss your conflict. A subpoena is a court order to appear at court at the time and date specified. Ignoring a court order may have legal consequences including fines and incarceration.

Can I talk to Attorney Whethers? I think she is the person who is working on my case since her name appears on my court documents.

Attorney Whethers is the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney, so her name appears on most criminal court documents, and our office correspondence. However, she may not be personally handling the case in court. Please call our office to talk with the prosecutor handling your case, or to arrange a meeting.

How do I get a court-appointed attorney?

The prosecutor plays no role in whether you get a court-appointed attorney. You must ask the judge handling your case (generally at your arraignment). The judge will decide whether you are “indigent” (cannot afford to hire a lawyer) based on your income, assets and financial obligations, as well as the seriousness of the charge. A court appointed attorney is not necessarily a “free” lawyer. The judge may still order you to repay the State for those defense services; this is called a “recoupment” fee.

I am a defendant and I don’t like the attorney who is representing me. Can I talk to Attorney Whethers or one of her Assistants about my case?

No. All attorneys are governed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s Rules of Professional Conduct, which prevent them from speaking directly to anyone who is already represented by an attorney on the same matter. As long as you are represented by a defense attorney, a prosecutor may speak only to that attorney. Any questions that you have about your case should be answered by your attorney. If you continue to be dissatisfied with your court-appointed attorney, you will have to contact the judge assigned to your case.

Why are some cases “plea bargained”?

There are not enough prosecutors, judges, courtrooms, or trial days on the calendar to put the thousands of cases every year in Jefferson County before a jury. For those defendants taken to trial, or for those who plead guilty before a trial, there are not enough jail cells in the state to hold them. These practical demands, plus the defendant’s speedy trial rights, the seriousness of the cases, the strengths or weaknesses of cases, the victim’s wishes, public safety, punishment, rehabilitation, and deterrence are all interests that are considered by the prosecutor when deciding how to proceed. A plea agreement is always designed to balance these competing interests. Most cases are resolved in a relatively short time by the defendant’s plea of guilty–often to the charged offense(s).

What if I have a question which is not answered in your FAQs?

Call or visit our office. Each work day, a “duty officer” prosecutor is assigned to answer such questions. However, the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office is not a “free legal clinic.” We cannot give legal advice on private legal issues.